FORT WORTH, Texas — One of the most contentious issues in Fort Worth politics is how to improve policing.
Fort Worth city council narrowly rejected a plan for a police oversight board in November.
In December, the city watched as former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean was convicted of manslaughter for shooting and killing Atatiana Jefferson in her home in 2019.
Then, Tuesday, police chief Neil Noakes revealed his version of a plan to get community input on policing.
There’s a focus on increased accountability and transparency on policing in Fort Worth that won’t fade.
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker sat down with WFAA to discuss the citizen review board, race and policing in the city and her reaction to the Dean trial.
“I think to be a good mayor you have to be pro-police and pro-community at the same time,” Parker said.
She’s attempting to walk that line but received criticism after her vote to reject the police oversight board.
“Candidly, I do not regret my vote,” Parker said. “What I should have done as mayor is talk to my community and say this is not the right time to do this in the middle of an election season in November, prior to the trial concerning Atatiana Jefferson's murder, this was not the right time to do so.”
Advocates have been pushing for the oversight board since a viral arrest of a Fort Worth mother seven years ago. The arrest led to the creation of a race and culture task force which provided a series of recommendations to the city including the police oversight board.
After a year of work and adjustments to how the board would operate, the vote failed 5-4 after Parker’s no vote along with councilmembers Carlos Flores, Michael Crain, Alan Blaylock and Leonard Firestone.
She emotionally referenced Jefferson’s death during discussion of the vote saying she didn’t think Jefferson would have died the same way if she’d lived in Parker’s neighborhood.
“Had the same thing happened at my home, I wondered if possibly those officers would have knocked on the door first, asked the questions,” Parker told WFAA.
She hasn’t spoken about the trial since Dean was sentenced to 11 years, 10 months and 12 days in prison.
“It was an incredibly difficult time for me personally and for our city,” Parker said. “At the end of the day, no one really won a young woman's life is tragically lost. Her dreams will never be realized, and her family is completely split apart because of her death.”
Instead of an oversight board, the city created the office of police monitor in 2020 and hired Kim Neal for the role. The office worked to build community relationships without face-to-face connections during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic and last year handled 41 police complaints, up from 16 in 2021.
Neal recently left the city for a similar role in Arlington, Virginia. In an exit interview with WFAA, she said she felt there was a racial divide in Fort Worth.
“There is a racial divide on the issue of policing. I do feel strongly about that,” Neal said. “We have different communities that have different experiences with police.”
“I do believe that's true,” Parker said. “If someone feels like they've been over-policed and it's created a lack, a lack of trust in their communities, but at the same time, they know they need police in their communities.”
Chief Noakes revealed a new plan Tuesday for a board that would recommend policies and procedures but would investigate complaints and Noakes would appoint its members. He presented 13 names of people willing to take on roles.
Several city council members pushed back against the idea as a replacement for the oversight board community leaders have pushed for over several years.
Councilwoman Gina Bivens called it a "slap in the face."
“It’s unfortunate that the wishes of the people, the race and culture task force, who called for an oversight committee, that has been ignored,” Bivens said.
Parker calls it a positive step and says police are already heavily scrutinized.
“The job at times feels really thankless and it's incredibly dangerous job and in a seconds’ moment, right your whole life can change based on a decision that you made,” she said. “The policing profession has now become probably the most investigated, closely monitored and trained profession in the entire country.”
Noakes presented the committee as an option that could exist alongside an additional oversight board, but the oversight board was already criticized for not being unnecessary due to the police monitor role.
“I can tell you where my reservations lie now,” Parker said. I think there's a lot of redundancy and potentially putting in another task force another committee.”
Parker believes the gap in trust is closing and that it’ll take the whole city, not just police to fully heal it.
“We probably shouldn't call them high crime areas,” she said. “We call them neighborhoods that have needed investment for decades, and it's the responsibility of a city government to think holistically about what the needs of a city are.”